The Creative Agenda of a player represents what the player hopes to achieve via Exploration in their game experience; or, of a game system, what type of experience it is most designed to offer.
The three creative agendas are as follows. To consider how these might be applied, let's consider a particular case study: a Star Wars game in which Chancellor Palpatine does not exist, and the Senate is crumbling under attacks by the Trade Federation, which in this setting are not part of any conspiracy.
- Simulationism ("the right to dream") means that the player's main enjoyment comes from Exploration itself directly, without any need to achieve anything in particular as a result of that Exploration. It's referred to as simulationism because in order for this to be viable, the thing that is being explored must operate with strong internal consistency; otherwise it is difficult to meaningfully explore anything. In the Star Wars game above, the player would wish to explore the consequences of this situation for the simple joy of doing so: as long as people behaved and events occured in manners which were consistent with the setting, they would be satisfied even if the final result was that the Trade Federation won.
- Gamism ("step on up") means that the player's main enjoyment comes from being challenged in a sense that they - the player (not the character!) - may win or lose. Of course, the gamist wishes to win, but also wishes there to be a possibility of losing in order that any challenge is real. In the Star Wars game above, the player would expect this scenario to represent a long-term challenge that must be overcome to prevent the Trade Federation achieving victory, and for further short-term challenges to arise within it. Thus, it is possible that parts of the setting would deviate from absolute internal consistency in order to provide challenges. (A simulationist player would be frustrated by these challenges, feeling they were getting in the way of their ability to experiment with the setting.)
- Narrativism ("story now") means that the player's main enjoyment comes from the quality of the narrative produced as a result of the game. Narrativism is often, wrongly, confused with railroading in the false belief that it represents a desire to act out a pre-existing story in the game. In fact, the Narrativist's goal is to cause a story of high literary quality, possibly touching on classic story values such as heroism, to be created as a result of play. In order to encourage this, parts of the setting may be altered or even lifted beyond the fourth wall. In a Narrativist version of our Star Wars game, for example, the PC may be able to win a battle against droids simply by coming up with a "cool" way of doing so, on the grounds that "cool" combat is a narrative trope. A simulationist would feel this obstructed them from exploring by constantly shifting the playing field and a gamist would consider such a battle worthless if it wasn't hard to win.
Awareness of the Creative Agenda of a player can enable greater understanding of the player's actions in game. For example, a player who attempts to "power game" a system, selecting the most powerful abilities for their character, is engaging in exploration of system, but this does not mean that they are a Gamist! They may be a Gamist, in which case they would wish the GM to present them with incredibly powerful opponents which would require all of their min-maxing skill to overcome; alternatively they may be a Simulationist who just likes hacking on the game system, and will be happy just to hear the damage total announced even if it's far above that needed to defeat an enemy, just so long as the GM doesn't fiddle the system to weaken them.
The three Creative Agendas have led to this entire theory being referred to as GNS, although in practice it is part of a larger model based on the Social Contract and the term GNS is often considered deprecated.